What are the colors of American History? Are they red, white, and blue? Or are they, red, white, black, brown, beige, tan, olive, yellow, and gray? Is the color of American History determined by the color of the signers of the Declaration of Independence or the colors of all the folks that have worked to build this nation into the wondrous melting pot known as the United States?
The independent film I most looked forward to viewing this Black History Month is also the independent film I found the most thought provoking, relevant, and (gasp) entertaining, More than a Month, written and directed by Shukree Hassan Tilghman. It is a chronicle of the filmmaker’s quest to put an end to Black History Month. Why? Because Black History is American History, a history comprised of many colors.
Through Tilghman’s travels, we learn about Black History history—the who, where, why, and how of the origins of the month-long commemoration, Black History Month marketing ploys, and who decides what gets into history books and classes. Politics rears its ugly head, but Tilghman handles it (and everything else) with equanimity and humor. Most amusing are vignettes that illustrate his fears and expectations when he began his movement to end Black History Month. The value of More than a Month is enhanced by its balance of wit and gravity.
Black History Month is a Band-Aid over a gaping wound, meant to somehow rectify the lack of Black History in standard American History classes by jamming as much blackness as possible into one of America’s whitest months—snowy February. Black History Month is the time of year when we acknowledge that African Americans have made significant and substantial contributions to our society and culture. Like many others, I’ve supported Black History Month because it seemed the only way of focusing attention on people who have shaped our world but are largely ignored, but bemoaned the fact that the contributions ofall Americans are largely ignored.
Americans have mixed attitudes about history. Some find it fascinating, some find it boring, and others (like me) know that every thing that is resulted from all things that were. The little I remember of the history taught in school relates to the “discovery” of America, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War. Battles, generals, and enemies were the stuff of history as I knew it. That history is the basis of, but far removed from, life in the United States. It is our social and “scientific” history—civil rights battles, anti-war protests, feminism, technology, medicine—that has shaped our lives and lifestyle.
More than a Month, in its non-threatening, entertaining way, forces the viewer to consider attitudes about Black History Month and the work, struggles, influence, and impact of African Americans as Americans. In considering my own attitudes, I found myself in agreement with Shukree Tilghman; it’s too bad Black History month is necessary, but itshould continue until the history of all Americans is incorporated—integrated, if you will—into American History. Perhaps then we will honor individual contributors--regardless of race or national origin--on specific days throughout the entire year, such as we currently do for George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (and, no, I’m not suggesting a holiday every day).
Independent Lens (PBS) premieres More than a Month on Thursday, February 16, 2012, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern (check local listings). To learn more about the film, and the issues involved, visit the companion website. Get detailed information on the film, watch preview clips, read an interview with the filmmaker, and explore the subject in depth with links and resources. The site also features a “Talkback” section where viewers can share their ideas and opinions.